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Parsha Bamidar - not only about Counting

Parshat Bamidbar

On Rosh Chodesh Sivan- on this day we came to the Wilderness of Sinai

"as one man with one heart - כאיש אחד בלב אחד"

Dear friends “ad 120 b’simcha” Shalom Uvracha mi'Yerushalayim!

We hope that all of you are very well B”H.

In just a few days we will all be standing together as Hashem's brides at Har Sinai to 'receive' the "giving of the Torah" b'simcha. Mazal Tov

lift them up - שְׂא֗וּ אֶת־רֹאש

everyone wants to be raised up everyone needs to be uplifted everyone needs to know that they are worthy to live in Hashem's light and to bring His holy light into every cell and fiber of his being everyone need to know that they can illuminate the world of darkness with Hashem's beautiful holy light

everyone wants eternity, though we know that our days are numbered we seek eternity through our children and children's children why so? because our souls are truly a part of Hashem from above- the Eternal One ברוך הוא, so we instinctually yearn for eternity, we value life

but we live in a world so dark that we don't always feel this desire for eternity; in pervasive darkness we continue to propagate, as all creatures do, without reason or consciousness and we lose sight of our own possible eternity, we lose contact with the holy divine light within 'chas v'shalom'

and so we desperately need tzadikkim - holy people who see our soul lights even through our darkness and so Hashem commands Moshe He commands the tzaddik to lift us up, to elevate us, to connect us back to our source and root so too Hashem is speaking to your/my inner tzaddik - the Moshe within us to lift and elevate one another, every person we live with, learn with and interact with, even those we just walk by we are commanded to see and help reveal the holy divine light within everyone, to lift them up, to connect and reconnect, to be aware of their true source of their holiness and worthy being

how? how? is a very good question a very important question can it be answered while standing on one foot? possibly the two most important words in Hillel's answer to the convert, are זיל גמור -go and learn this until the end, until the end of your wisdom, until the end of your life only then will you hopefully have completed the holy journey you are beginning right now with this holy quest(ion). To know that ואהבת לרעך כמוך is "the whole Torah, and the rest is its explanation" is to know the truth of the Torah. But to know this is only the starting point. You have to spend your whole life to complete it!

how do we get across the narrow bridge? Says Rebbe Nachman, 'the main thing is not to fear at all'; don't let yourself be frozen by fear of falling, look ahead and look within at the נקודה טובה good point of light, even it's no larger than a pinhole, go there, it is Hashem's light in you and in others. Go there and when you come close to it you will realize that no matter how small it seems now, it is the gateway to a huge astoundingly beautiful palace of holy divine light.

but how can we overcome non-inspiration? If everything is really Hashem's doing, for אין עוד מלבדו - ein od milvado - there is only Hashem, and nothing else, then our inspiration to do a mitzvah is also Hashem's doing. What am I to do if Hashem isn't inspiring me? The holy Piaseczner Rebbe זצ"ל explains, (אש קודש חוקת תש"ב) why among all the tzadikkim and tzadkkaniot of her generation, was Miriam specifically, the one צדקת righteous person who merited to bring us the well of living waters. It was because Miriam opened the gateway for all who lacked inspiration from above. Her deep desire and yearning-full prayers to be inspired from above, brought down the heavenly fountain of living waters. Miriam taught everyone not to give up on yearning for heavenly inspiration. This sincere yearning is the mouth of the fountain. With 'teshuvah' we get all the strength necessary to roll away the big rock and we will find the tranquil gushing living waters of 'tahara' to drink, to dip into and be enveloped with all the holy love letters of Torah and ahavat Yisrael.

Pray for the inspiration to lift everyone higher and higher

May Hashem spend a speedy healing and recovery, both physically and spiritually to all who are in need.

We wish you a Good Chodesh! a Good Shabbos! and a Good Yom Tov! May we all merit to receive the Torah b'simcha! Always - every day of our lives.

Have a wonderful Shabbos and Shavout!!, b'ahavh ubivracha Sholom

Parshat Bamidbar: Teachings From Previous Years

▪ Rosh Chodesh Sivan ▪ Machane B'nai Yisrael ▪ A Lesson in Trust from a Simple Yid

Are you a Levite? HFBB-HFB

There is much in this week’s parsha about the Levi’im – the Levites. Before giving us the holy Torah Hashem said “and you shall be unto Me a kingdom of Kohanim and a holy nation.” (Shmot 19.) Though only the biological descendants of Aharon HaKohen were the ones to do the sacrificial services in the Beit Hamikdash, all the people if Israel are Kohanim! Aharon haKohen originates from the tribe of Levi; we too as 'kohanim' are of Levitic origin. And so all of us need to know what it is to be a Levi. The Rambam extends the concept of a Levi, beyond the biological definition. Note especially his words in Halacha 13.

Rambam {Maimonides} Laws of Shemita - Chapter 13

Halacha 12 Why did the Levites not receive a portion in the inheritance of Eretz Yisrael and in the spoils of war like their brethren? Because they were set aside to serve God and minister unto Him and to instruct people at large in His just paths and righteous judgments, as [Deuteronomy 33:10] states:25 "They will teach Your judgments to Jacob and Your Torah to Israel." Therefore they were set apart from the ways of the world. They do not wage war like the remainder of the Jewish people, nor do they receive an inheritance, nor do they acquire for themselves through their physical power. Instead, they are God's legion, as [ibid.:11]: states: "God has blessed His legion" and He provides for them, as [Numbers 18:20] states: "I am your portion and your inheritance."

Halacha 13 Not only the tribe of Levi, but any one of the inhabitants of the worldwhose spirit generously motivates him and he understands with his wisdom to set himself aside and stand before God to serve Him and minister to Him and to know God, proceeding justly as God made him, removing from his neck the yoke of the many reckonings which people seek, he is sanctified as holy of holies. God will be His portion and heritage forever and will provide what is sufficient for him in this world like He provides for the priests and the Levites.29 And thus David declared [Psalms 16:5]: "God is the lot of my portion; You are my cup, You support my lot."

Blessed be the Merciful One who provides assistance.

And how, most particularly, did the Levites do their service? Here are a few words from the Tanya Ch. 50

“The Levites‘ service of G‑d was to raise their voice in melody and thanksgiving, with song and music, tunefulness and harmony. Their music progressed in a manner of advance and retreat ('ratzo', literally “running”, and 'shov', “returning”). [This echoed their form of serving G‑d: the headlong advance towards klot hanefesh, and the restraint, retreat and return from that point.]

Such is the nature of this intense love, like a flame that flashes out of the bazak, as is mentioned in the Gemara (Chagigah, ch. 2).17

At what age are you considered to be a Levite? Consider these words of Rashi very carefully:

Rashi Bamidbar 3:15

טו פְּקֹד אֶת בְּנֵי לֵוִי לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם כָּל זָכָר מִבֶּן חֹדֶשׁ וָמַעְלָה תִּפְקְדֵם:

From the age of one month and upward: When he is no longer in the category of [possible] premature birth, he is counted among those called, “keepers of the holy charge.” R. Judah the son of R. Shalom said: That tribe (the tribe of Levi) is accustomed to being counted from the womb, as it says, “whom she bore to Levi in Egypt” ; as she entered the gate of Egypt, she bore her [Jochebed], yet she [Jochebed] was counted as one of the seventy souls. For if you count their total, you find only sixty-nine, but she completed the number. [Mid. Tanchuma , Bamidbar 16]

In case you are still not convinced about your holy (Levite) status, consider this. I once heard that a young man had posed the following question to the Lubavitcher Rebbe זצ"ל; ‘if G-d would have wanted me to be an observant Jew, why was I born into a non-practicing family?’ To which the Rebbe gave him the deepest answer. The Rebbe said: ‘Your starting point in life precedes your actual birth in this world. It is your holy neshamah-soul, a veritable part of G-d, that defines you; not the family you were born into. Why you were born into your particular family is Hashem’s consideration, and you might someday come to know why and you may not ever find out in this lifetime, and it is not necessarily relevant that know Why G-d made such a decision. What is important is that you know that just before you came into this world, before you were born you were administered a holy oath as we learn at the very opening of the Tanya:

“We have learned (Niddah, end of ch. 3):1 “An oath is administered to him: [Before a Jew is born an oath is administered to him in heaven, charging him:] ‘Be righteous and be not wicked; and even if the whole world judging you by your actions tells you that you are righteous, regard yourself as wicked (in the sense that you always need to improve).’” The soul of a Jew descends into a body for a purpose — in order to fulfill a specific spiritual mission in this world. To enable him to fulfill it a heavenly oath is administered to him that he “be righteous and not wicked,” and concurrently, that he regard himself as wicked and not righteous. The root (שׁבע) of the verb משׁביעים (“an oath is administered”) is virtually identical with the root (‏שׂבע)of the verb משׂביעים (“one causes [him] to be sated”). Accordingly, the oath charging him to be righteous may also be understood to mean that the soul is thereby invested (“sated”) with the power that enables it to fulfill its destiny in life on earth. (Lessons in Tanya, Ch. 1)

Rosh Chodesh Sivan

Reb Shlomo זצ"ל - And you know friends today is Rosh Chodesh Sivan. In the first passage (Shmos – Exodus 19.) it says "bayom hazaeh bo'u midbar Sinai" - today they came to the Wilderness of Sinai. In the second passage it says "va'yissu mey'Refidim va'ya'vo'u midbar Sinai." - they traveled from Refidim and they came to the wilderness of Sinai." And the commentaries say - first you (are supposed to) say 'they moved away' and then you say 'they arrived' - and here it says first they arrived and then they moved away?

And the answer is very simple. Physically, first you move away and then you arrive. But spiritually, when (do) you move away from the old place - when you (have) found the real place. Then you have the strength to move away from the old place. First you arrive and then you move away.

So 'chosson and kallah' I want to bless you and all of us with all those holy places that will give you strength to move away – (to) move higher and higher and higher, and deeper and stronger.”

Sefer Bamidbar – Chomesh Hapkudim – the Book of Numbers

As we are beginning the reading of 'Sefer Bamidbar' otherwise known as 'Chomesh Hapekudim" – the book of Numbers this Shabbos, let's begin our learning with reading the first two verses of the parsha:

א וַיְדַבֵּר ה' אֶל-מֹשֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד: בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בַּשָּׁנָה הַשֵּׁנִית, לְצֵאתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם--לֵאמֹר.

1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying: ב שְׂאוּ, אֶת-רֹאשׁ כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם--בְּמִסְפַּר שֵׁמוֹת, כָּל-זָכָר לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָם.

2 "Take a head count of the entire congregation of the Children of Yisrael according to their families to the house of their fathers counting the names of all males individually.

Hashem's Love – You are Precious!

The very first counting of the Children of Israel took place when we descended to Egypt. Together with Yaakov Avinu, we numbered seventy souls. The next census was done two hundred and ten years later, when we left Egypt. A mere three months later there was another census after the sin of the golden calf. Less than a year later, the census was taken again on the first of Nissan. Surprisingly there was another census taken one month later, on the first of Iyar. Thus, in the space of less than two years, the census was taken four times. Why? What does this signify?

Rashi explains: "In the Sinai Dessert… on the first [day] of the second month, etc." Because of His love for them, [because they (the Israelites) are precious before Hashem], He counts them all the time; when they went out of Egypt He counted them (Shemos 12:37), and when they fell because of [the sin of] the 'golden calf' He counted them to know the number of those who remained, when He came to cause His presence to rest upon them He counted them – on the first day of Nissan [when] the Mishkan was set up, and on the first day of Iyar He counted them [again].

The above cited comment from Rashi underscores the deeper concepts of the census taking (as we learned in Parshat Ki Tissa)- Hashem's love for every single one of us and the great importance of each individual in the eyes of Hashem. Rashi explains that not only does the counting signify the importance of each individual, but it also is [one of] Hashem's ways of demonstrating His love for His people.

In the Tanya the Alter Rebbe teaches us to meditate deeply on Hashem's love for us. By meditating on how every moment of life, every breath and every cell of our being is a Divine gift- our love for Hashem is naturally aroused as well. Taking this a step further realizing that Hashem loves us also strengthens our faith and trust in Him, and thus also further enables us to love one another.

Why is it so hard for us to share with one another?

Yisrael, trust in Hashem, trust that Hashem loves you and is taking care of you. He is giving you exactly everything that you need to manifest your highest and deepest self. Be one with Hashem and you will be filled with joy; you will be very grateful for every opportunity to share, to learn, and to love.

If we were stronger in our faith and fully put our trust in Him, that we have and will have everything that Hashem wants us to have, then we would no longer fear one another, we would no longer need to see one another as opposing competitors. We would live in peace and love.

'Lispor' And 'Lifkod'

Sefer Bamidbar, the fourth book of the Torah, is known as "Chomesh Hapekudim" in the Talmud. Translated this means the 'chumash of the counting'' [the fourth book of the Five Books of Moses] and hence the English name for this book of the Torah is Numbers.

Lashon Hakodesh, the holy tongue, Hebrew, is a very beautiful language. There are two Hebrew verbs which mean to count: and. Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon were commanded: "se'u et rosh" – to take a census - [literally 'lift the head'] 'lifkod' – to count and appoint them according to their divisions 'lispor' – to count their numbers by counting the coins they contributed

In studying the verb 'lifkod' we discover that is used in at least four different ways meanings which are in fact all related.

'Lifkod' (inf.) means: 'to count' – [you count] to appoint – [you have a purpose and mission] 'to remember' – [Hashem is mindful of you]; and 'to command' – you are commanded to fulfill your purpose and mission; you are endowed with a spark of His holiness- with this energy you are to bring His presence into this world.

You are so Precious

"Miben esrim shanah vamalah kol-yotze tzava beYisra'el "tifkedu" otam letziv'otam atah ve'Aharon" - From twenty years old and above, all those eligible for the army of Yisrael, you shall count them according to their divisions, you and Aharon Bamidbar 1:3.

'Lifkod' (inf.) means 'to count' and it also means 'to remember' and it also means 'to command'. And there is a deep connection between each of these meanings. Each person that was counted was made aware that their presence in this world is meaningful, that Hashem is mindful of them and that they have a specific purpose and destiny to fulfill in this world.

"The World was Created for My Sake"

Let's learn a Mishnah. This Mishnah is in Sanhedrin and deals with what the judges would tell the witnesses before they testified in cases that involved capital punishment. Note especially the last statement, "Therefore every single person is obligated to say, 'The world was created for my sake."'

"How are witnesses inspired with awe in capital cases?" the Mishnah begins. "They are brought in and admonished as follows: In case you may want to offer testimony that is only conjecture or hearsay or secondhand evidence, even from a person you consider trustworthy; or in the event you do not know that we shall test you by cross examination and inquiry, then know that capital cases are not like monetary cases. In monetary cases, a man can make monetary restitution and be forgiven, but in capital cases both the blood of the man put to death and the blood of his [potential] descendants are on the witness's head until the end of time. For thus we find in the case of Cain, who killed his brother, that it is written: 'The bloods of your brother cry unto Me' (Genesis 4:10) — that is, his blood and the blood of his potential descendants.... Therefore was the first man, Adam, created alone, to teach us that whoever destroys a single life, the Bible considers it as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a single life, the Bible considers it as if he saved an entire world. Furthermore, only one man, Adam, was created for the sake of peace among men, so that no one should say to his fellow, 'My father was greater than yours.... Also, man [was created singly] to show the greatness of the Holy One, Blessed be He, for if a man strikes many coins from one mold, they all resemble one another, but the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He, made each man in the image of Adam, and yet not one of them resembles his fellow. Therefore every single person is obligated to say, 'The world was created for my sake"' (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5).

We need to understand what a person is supposed to think when he/she says, "The world was created for my sake". Surely the Rabbis were not suggesting that we be egocentric. Saying that the world was "created for my sake," means that everything that has taken place since the beginning of creation until now was done for my sake. How are we to understand this? Actually it seems to be beyond our comprehension. In more manageable words it seems to be saying that Hashem does not do anything that is redundant. You and I are not just another two individuals in the world, another number, another statistic. Hashem values our beings tremendously; much more so than we do. This is beyond our understanding and we must accept this on faith.

The Torah teaches us that we must learn to respect and love each individual person. We must try to understand that when Hashem created the world He already 'dreamt' about the time that you and I would be living in it. We need to get in touch with Hashem's dream. We need to find out what Hashem dreamt about each one of us and live our lives to fulfill His dream. That is the ultimate of nobility.

The ultimate of nobility is to truthfully and humbly say 'The world was created for my sake'; to truthfully and humbly accept that there is a noble purpose in my/your existence; to accept that that which I/you am/are supposed to do cannot be done by someone else; to honestly accept that we must make every effort to accomplish our individual and collective purpose. Hashem commanded Moshe to count the Children of Israel, to let each one know that in Hashem's eyes, the entire Creation is for your sake; that Hashem is mindful of me and you always, and is waiting for us to actualize our potential and fulfill our purpose and destiny.

Machane B'nai Yisrael

Numbers Chapter 2 בְּמִדְבַּר

The Encampment of the Children of Israel in the Sinai Desert

א וַיְדַבֵּר ה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אַהֲרֹן לֵאמֹר.

1 G-d spoke to Moshe and to Aharon, saying: ב אִישׁ עַל-דִּגְלוֹ בְאֹתֹת לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם, יַחֲנוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: מִנֶּגֶד, סָבִיב לְאֹהֶל-מוֹעֵד יַחֲנו.

2 'The children of Israel should encamp (in such a way that) each man is in his own division (of the three tribes) signposted (by a flag which contains the same color that is the same color as the gemstone in the High Priest's breastplate that is identified with) his father's house. They should encamp around the Tent of Meeting, at a distance.

In this week's parsha the Torah tells us in great detail about the encampment of B'nei Yisrael. Though this information is interesting one may wonder why the Torah is bothering to tell us all these details. After all the word Torah is related to the word Ho-rah-ah which means instruction. Everything in the Torah is meant to teach us how to serve Hashem. What can we learn from the encampment of our people in the desert?

The Midrash teaches us that the organization of the Jewish encampment in the desert according to their groupings and flags, surrounding the Mishkan, was a Divine gift from Hashem to His people. This particular formation enabled us to be similar to the encampments of the ministering angels in heaven - opening a gateway to perceive higher worlds, it would inspire fear and awe among the nations of the world, and would lead them to discover Hashem's all encompassing unity. Consequently, as Yeshayahu prophesied, they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning forks.

Further, the formation of the Jewish encampment also mirrored Ezekiel's vision of the Holy Divine Chariot. The four groupings of the 12 Tribes surrounding the Mishkan was intended to manifest the unity of Hashem and His creation in both the higher and lower worlds. When we speak about higher worlds and lower worlds we are not talking geography. In higher worlds the presence and unity of Hashem is more readily apparent. However, this lowest of all worlds is a world of [apparent] separation. All life exists within Hashem and there is no separation within Hashem; yet Hashem created this world of ours in which we finite beings experience separation, opposition and competition.

The Rabbis have taught us that G-d desires to have a dwelling place in this lowest of all worlds. It is our purpose to manifest Hashem's unity in this world of division. To do this we first need to rise above our self-centered consciousness to discover and create unity within ourselves, between mind and heart, between body and soul.

Our ability to bond with G-d and to truly nullify our separate selves before Him is completely dependent on our ability to make space for one another in our hearts and to truly unite with each other.

The seemingly superficial information found in this Parsha actually contains the deepest secrets of forming a truly united community which authentically manifests Hashem's unity in all worlds.

[Though I cannot say that I know any of these secrets, knowing that there are secrets hopefully will inspire us to go deeper and deeper into the depths of the Torah. We have to keep on seeking.]

A Simple But Not So Simple Story

Related to the above although a bit indirectly I would like to share a little personal anecdote that relates to the 'machaneh B'nai Yisrael', the camp of B'nai Yisrael in the wilderness that is described in this week's parsha.

A number of years ago when I was teaching at the Solomon Schechter Academy in Montreal I had the privilege of teaching a small group of grade five students. Our school had decided to work on a Bible Museum project; each class was to develop an artistic representation of a biblical topic that they were studying. Most classes undertook major productions with the help of teacher assistants and an artistic advisor. My small group was not able to undertake a large production, mainly because of our small numbers. But we nevertheless wanted to do something.

We were learning sefer Bamidbar at the time; we had been studying about the census, how the Jewish camp was laid out, the tribal flags and the order of traveling. So we decided to make a small-scale model of our wilderness camp. We made small folded paper tents. Each tent represented one thousand people. We made small replicas of the tribal flags. On a very large piece of Kraft paper, we placed a box in the center, representing the Mishkan and we laid out the tents on all four sides of the 'Mishkan' in their appropriate places and voila there we had a model of 'machaneh B'nai Yisrael'. Then we threw some sand all around to cover the paper base, making it look like a desert scene. And then something very special happened.

Many visitors came to our school 'bible museum' and it was indeed impressive. Though our little model was dwarfed by all the other class presentations and models it was noticed and it did something to all of us. Seeing it, seemed to trigger an ancient memory in us, there was something about it that we all recognized and had some familiarity with. A memory of living in unity with each other and with Hashem, a memory of a truth that we had once lived and experienced was aroused.

We often talk about unity, often just to remind ourselves that there really is such a thing as unity, even though we are not always living it. But is it an attainable goal? We know that it is really attainable because it is in our collective memory of our past and of the future. We know that it can be real, for it was attained at least once in the past and we will attain it again. When we looked at this simple model of a people living in simplicity in the wilderness with presence of Hashem in our midst, a very deep memory was stirred.

May we be blessed that this parsha will stir our memories of living together and standing together 'as one person with one heart', ready to receive Hashem's Torah. May we be blessed that each letter of Torah will bring us together in stronger and closer bonds, that we respect each letter of Torah, that we respect each fellow Jewish neshamah, that we respect all of Hashem's creations and that we respect our relationships with family, friends, community, Hashem and ourselves.

A Lesson in Trust from a Simple Yid

In his early years, when he was still concealed and only a very few individuals knew of his holiness and greatness, Reb Yisrael Baal Shem Tov used to make his living by digging clay in the forest and selling it in the city. He very much longed to study the Holy Zohar, but he could not afford to buy a copy. So he went to the Rav of the city, Reb Moshe and asked if he might borrow a copy from him. The Rabbi recognized that the Baal Shem Tov was a very holy person and he gladly lent him a copy. The Baal Shem was very excited that Hashem granted him this opportunity to study from this holy book. Since it was time to go to shul for the afternoon Mincha service, he left his little cart and horse in front of the rabbi's house and walked to shul via the narrow side streets lovingly holding and trying to conceal the holy book in his hands, as he did not want anyone to see him with a copy of the Zohar. As it happened, not far from the shul a wagon came by and stopped in front of him. Reb Gershon, Reb Yisrael's brother-in-law, was on the wagon. He stopped to greet him as he descended from the wagon. Reb Gershon noticed that his brother-in-law was holding a Sefer. He asked to see it, and the Baal Shem Tov could not refuse. Seeing that